Category: 50 States Mysteries

#BookBeginnings Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones

Today I’m starting a book set in Detroit, Michigan: Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!



Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Detroit ex-cop August Snow spends his time renovating houses in a neighborhood called Mexicantown. After a young girl from the community is found dead,  Snow discovers she was last seen alive during an ICE raid. Soon he is embroiled in a violent campaign to prevent the perpetrators from acting again.

First Sentence:

Her secret ingredient was nutmeg.

Not a lot — maybe half teaspoon or less — but she got the same complex undercurrent effect that she would have with smoked East Indian paprika or authentic Mexican chili powder.


I read some reviews of this novel that suggested it has a lot of violence, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with the beginning. In fact, I really like the description. I want to know who “she” is and also what exactly the narrator is making.

What do you think? Have you read a book by Stephen Mack Jones? Would you read this one?


Aside:  I have website that lists children’s books set in 50 different states, and thought it might be fun to try the same thing with mysteries. I already have three mystery series set in Arizona. Do you have any suggestions for others?

Thriller Set In Arizona: Blood’s Echo by Isabella Maldonado

After looking at three mystery series set in Arizona last week, let’s take a look at a thriller/police procedural set in Phoenix, Blood’s Echo by Isabella Maldonado.

Blood’s Echo* by Isabella Maldonado


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  The leading force behind the Phoenix Police Drug Enforcement Bureau’s campaign against a powerful drug cartel, Detective Veranda Cruz is on the brink of finally bringing in a powerful drug lord. When the operation goes wrong, however, Cruz finds herself battling her own bosses as well as the cartel. Will her secrets prevent her from getting the upper hand?

This is Isabella Maldonado’s debut novel in a planned series.  Although it has some of the rough edges one might expect in a debut novel, it also has some bright spots.

Bright Spots:

Maldonado is a retired police captain, and her experiences give the police procedure portions real depth and authenticity. Aspiring mystery authors should pick up a copy just to see how she uses police jargon and vocabulary. I found myself underlining terms, especially in the first scene or two. How the various organizations within the police departments fit together is also enlightening.

In addition to police procedural, this novel is a clear thriller. The bad guys are revealed right up front and the question isn’t who did it, but will they win. Maldonado’s plotting is tight, which isn’t always easy to do. She also spends time with her villains, showing scenes from their point of view. This makes the stakes even higher, because we can see them as fleshed-out characters with goals and motivations.

Even though it is part of a planned series (with threads set up for the next book), the ending was satisfying and clean.

Needs More Polish:

The place where the novel falls down is a common one. Even experienced authors tend to write clichés, or overused ideas and phrases in their first drafts. The trick is to find the tired old phrases and rework them to make the ideas and words fresh for the reader. For example, “stomach churning,” “eyes cutting,” and “sweat running in rivulets” are commonly-used phrases that could have been upgraded.


Overall, Blood’s Echo is a tightly-drawn thriller with a strong female protagonist and well-crafted setting. It was a fast and enjoyable read. I will definitely check out the next one as well.


The second novel in the Veranda Cruz series:

Phoenix Burning* by Isabella Maldonado

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Three Mystery Series Set in Arizona

Someone recently asked me whether there are any mystery novels set in Arizona. I’m not sure how many there are altogether, but three mystery series by authors with ties to Arizona came to mind right away.

1. Sheriff Joanna Brady series by J. A. Jance

Judith Ann Jance grew up in Bisbee, Arizona and graduated from The University of Arizona. After moving to Seattle and setting her first mystery novel series there, she returned to her roots for the Sheriff Joanna Brady series and set it in Bisbee.

The first in this series is Desert Heat.


I’ve written several posts about J. A. Jance, including a WhoDunIt video, summary of her first novels, and discussion of what launched her career in suspense/mysteries.

By the way, Jance’s Ali Reynolds series is set in Sedona.

2. Lena Jones series by Betty Webb

Arizona author Betty Webb sprinkles her Lena Jones mysteries with local Phoenix lore, landmarks, and even cameo appearances by local authors.

The first in the series is Desert Noir.


3. David Mapstone series by Jon Talton

Jon Talton is also an Arizona native who moved to Seattle. His main character, David Mapstone, is a history buff who explores the shady side of Phoenix’s past.

The first in this series is Concrete Desert.


I’ve previously reviewed Talton’s second in the series, Camelback Falls.

All three of these authors give talks at local libraries and bookstores, as well as at the Tucson Festival of Books.

Have you read any of their books?

Do you have any mystery novels set in Arizona to recommend?



grand canyon arizona

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